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Showing posts from August, 2017

Thought for the Day: HaShem Runs the World; No, I Mean Really

If you ever get to the bottom of one of my emails, you'll see a quote from M'silas Yesharim:
כל ענייני העולם -- בין לטוב בין למוטב -- ניסיונות הם לאדם/All worldly affairs - whether good or beneficiary - are trials for a person It seems to me that is a crucial idea on how we look at life.  I thought I had learned that lesson and life that lesson pretty well.  Apparently HaShem felt I needed more training.

If you ask me about my recent trip to Nashville, you'll hear a few things.  I'll tell you about the great time I had spending time with my wife celebrating our 40th anniversary.  I'll tell you about the wonderful live music spilling onto the street.  I'll even tell you about the distillery tours we took.  You might be surprised that I don't talk more about the total solar eclipse -- first in 99 years in the continental US -- that provided the impetus to travel to Nashville in the first place.  I mean, you can't get much more cosmic and far out than that…

Thought for the Day: Appeasement is the Angel's Share of Repentance

To make bourbon you have to lose a good fraction to evaporation -- the so-called "angel's share".  That's inevitable... it's just the way the world is.  I, however, have proposed that the process of making bourbon is a pretty good analogy to making a Jew.  That is, fresh soul is breathed into physical body, allowed to age for several seasons -- with inevitable losses/suffering -- and finally you get that beautiful, perfected fusion of body and soul that lives forever in exquisite joy.  One may very well ask... if the goal is that perfect being, why didn't HaShem create that straight on, instead of creating the ingredients and environment and making us go through all this suffering first?

Before you jump all over me and tell me to just bag my analogy, let me push back on the statement that it's just inevitable that bourbon takes so long... that's the way it is.  When HaShem first created the world, though, that is most certainly not the way it was.  Ho…

Thought for the Day: Life Lessons from the Bourbon Trail

I almost never buy a coffee cup; I have a very nice one that my son bought for me several years ago.  I certainly never buy one just for the cute saying; how lame is that?  Well... I broke that rule and purchased a new coffee cup from one of the bourbon distilleries I recently toured just of the saying:
Give me the coffee to change the things I can, and Bourbon to accept the things I can't. Lame or not, I bought it and brought it to work. I showed it to a coworker, who remarked, "Oh... so spiritual..."  I replied, "Well, they do call it spirits."

In point of fact, I found that the bourbon process is actually a reasonable parable for our life in this world.  Alcohol (and other stuff, not important for now) is produced when yeast digests carbohydrates.  That process is known as fermentation; take a source of carbs, add the right yeast(s), you get a fermented gruel known as "mash".  Whiskey (or whisky, depending on its country of origin) means an alcoholi…

Thought for the Day: Baseless Hatred and Demanding Strict Justice -- Two Destructive Behaviours

My research advisor used to start his introductory lecture to freshman physics with a warning: "Some people say there is no such thing as a stupid question.  They are wrong."  I know without doubt that R' Fuerst has heard his share of stupid questions.  In fact, I can testify (with some shame, to be sure) that I have added to that genre.  I can also testify that R' Fuerst has always handled the questions with grace and patience with nary a trace of exasperation.  (R' Fuerst has, in fact, only hung up on a caller once.  He told us about it, so I know how far things have to go before the rabbi labels a queestion as stupid.)

Here's one very cool story that I heard from R' Schmelzer of Telshe, when he spent part of a summer at Camp Nageela Midwest some years ago along with R' Fuerst.  Camp Nageela provides an Orthodox Jewish experience for Jewish kids who do not come from an Orthodox home.  R' Schmelzer and R' Fuerst were walking to the lunchroom …

Thought for the Day: What a Great Stroke of Luck to Experience a Total Solar Eclipse

I get my news largely from NPR.  "But... but... sputter... sputter... it's so biased!", you declaim.  Precisely why I like it.  Everyone is biased; people who claim to be unbiased (and often strive to hide their bias) are, therefore completely unreliable.  If I know your bias, then I can account for it and extract out the true bits from your rhetoric.

Before I tell you about the news story I heard this morning, you need to know some facts.  (I know, I know... I am always being told how boring it is to first clarify the facts before discussing something.  I strive to be boring.)  Around the main disc of the sun is a aura of plasma that extends millions of miles (millions of kilometers, if you prefer) into the surrounding space, known as the corona.  Since it is so much less dense than the body of the sun, it is much less bright.  In fact, the corona is all but invisible unless you actually block the light of the globe of the sun.  How do we even know about it, you might a…

Thought for the Day: When You Don't Have to Pick Up a Lost Object to Return

If ever there was mitzvah that seems absolutely logical, returning lost objects seems to exemplify that genre to perfection.  And yet, a good fraction of Bava Metzia discusses its intricacies.  In fact, though, one finds that most of the discussion is when the mitzvah to return lost objects does not, in fact, apply.  That tactic is often used by Chazal when mapping the applicability of this or that mitzvah.  By delineating the borders -- even if there is some small uncertainty (machlokes), we achieve clarity on what is definitely inside and what is definitely excluded.

Here are the primary exclusions to the obligation to even pick up a lost object.

First and foremost, you need to be sure it is a lost object you are retrieving.  As obvious as that sounds, it has quite practical implications.  First, an object that is lying in a protected area is not lost.  It may have been sitting there for months or years, as evidenced by the thick layer of dust and confirmed by carbon dating.  No mat…

Thought for the Day: Preparation for Tisha b'Av -- Improve Interpersonal Relationships Now

I had a rough time at the end of the day on Tisha b'Av this year.  In fact, I had to end my fast early (based on p'sak from a rav, of course).  When my granddaughter saw me eating and heard that the rav has told me I needed to eat, her comment was, "Oh.  Yes, I have heard that old people have trouble fasting."

Me?!  Old?!  Yes... me; old.  I didn't prepare any differently this year than previous years.  That was a mistake, because there is a big difference between this year and previous years; namely, the intervening years.  My first "take away" is that I need to start now preparing for Yom Kippur.  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

My second take away is that I should really start now preparing for next Tisha b'Av.  As noted, the current observance of the Tisha b'Av season is lamenting our deficiency in our interpersonal relationships.  But we also know that the messiah is born (that is, the ultimate redemption begins) on …